Musings on work and repeated failures

**Warning… Boring research- and work-related brain dump ahead. Seriously. You might just want to skip this one, but it’s what was in my head this morning and it pushed its way out. I had planned a whole post on self-compassion and self-respect and the voice in my head and… clearly this was what my mind wanted to share instead. Sorry. Come back later this week, hopefully, for self-compassion?**

If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that if you keep the same approach, you’ll keep getting the same results. If it fails every time, then it’s time to take a step back, reassess, and think of a different way. Sometimes, a failed approach deserves another opportunity. Maybe there were circumstances outside your control. Maybe you didn’t make a key point or connection, realize that, and when you plug that hole, the “failed” approach will become your success.

Research can be a Sisyphean task. You roll that boulder up the damn mountain over and over again…and if you are lucky, one time out of 100, the reviewers will push the boulder over the summit for you. Finally. Yet, most of the time the burden is on me to find another path up the mountain, hopefully one that will have an smoother route to the top. And the the boulder will tip over thanks to the final push of outsiders approving of what I think is a really good idea.

It’s this need for justification and support for ideas that are mine and mine alone that makes this field so challenging. If it were just me having the courage to put my ideas out there, and not caring what happens as a result, then it would be completely different. Yet, I think my ideas have merit, so I keep on keeping on. We all do. That persistence in the face of repeated rejection is, I think, one of the hallmarks of a researcher. (The other, as I think I have mentioned, is an incessant need to ask questions…)

The difference with a research study is that you want to do something, you want to improve something, you want to make it better. This is especially true for the type of research I do. I’m a nurse researcher. Improving peoples’ health and well-being is, well, it’s what nurses do, whether you work at the bedside or a lab. So I don’t just put ideas out there and hope people read them. I want them to read the ideas, approve of the ideas, fund the ideas, and give me the means to make the difference that I want to make in the world. So a lot more rests on how you present my ideas and how they are received.

I realized that this is what’s been happening to me in my most recent attempts. I try to fit the kitchen sink in there, without a clear argument for everything I am cramming in, and it just doesn’t work. Trying to put every single idea I have into one particular study – rather than judiciously picking those that I need to examine first, and prioritizing and focusing on those – does not work. Focused and purposeful is a better approach then jamming every possible variable, every possible concept, into THIS particular study.

It’s taken me too long – and too many failed attempts – to figure this out. On the other hand, at least I figured it out now, and not in 20 years? That said, it’s going to be hard to change what I’ve been doing. Then again, isn’t doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result the definition of insanity? Probably time to try something different. Time to find a new path up the mountain. Even if I don’t succeed this time, I’ll know that I made a change, I worked to improve the outcome, and I can do it again.

The Definition of Insanity. - Smaggle
Source: https://www.smaggle.com/the-definition-of-insanity/

5 thoughts on “Musings on work and repeated failures

  1. Research and proposals (trying to get others behind your idea) is so hard. Even though I work for the government, our main funding comes from cooperators and it’s the same game… you need to package up your idea into a palatable (and hopefully fundable) chunk that people will understand. Then, often the scope of the study is paired down and you’re left “disappointed” because you feel like focusing on this ‘one single aspect’ without also looking at other aspects is a waste of time.
    I feel your frustration.

    1. That’s exactly it – that idea of making what we know is interesting and needs to be examined fit into the boxes created by others. And if you don’t fit in those boxes (or, in my world, if you don’t fit in the current “cool box”) then your chances of getting funding / support drop significantly. I didn’t realize that your work with the gov’t is funded by outside entities. Ugh. Does your job (salary) depend on you getting funding? I am glad that mine does not but know those positions exist – and know people who have taken them. That makes it even harder – get the money or lose your job. Yikes.

      1. I honestly don’t know exactly how it works. I know people commonly think all government employees are funded through Congress and that’s true for most of my agency, but not the water science centers (they figured at some point, water issues are so important to local state holders that they dropped funding and told us to get it from somewhere else, ” because people are interested in water studies and will fund the work”…. but running after funding is a huge (waste of) chunk of our time, plus we must compete with private companies (which is not what the government usually wants to do). It’s frustrating to say the least.
        Having said that, I have a permanent position and I my position is not really in jeopardy, but I do not know how they exactly cover our salaries if we don’t pull in enough funding. (And I don’t want to ask LOL)

        1. Oh, man, that a) seems a bit odd for a federal gov’t agency, and b) must be hard to think about. I wouldn’t want to ask, either! It also seems like every time we assume that “someone will pay for it because it’s valuable to them”, well, we’re mistaken. Or other things change, and whatever-it-is that the state is now funding moves down the list of funding priorities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.